WASHINGTON – U.S. investigators tracing the sources of Saddam Hussein's weaponry have made their first arrests — a California father and son they say brokered a deal for armored patrol boats.
The arrests of Sabri Yakou, 69, and Regard Yakou, 43, result from one of an estimated 30 investigations into methods used by the former Iraqi government to circumvent U.S. and international arms embargoes to obtain conventional weapons, supplies and military technology.
Michael J. Garcia, chief of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (search), said Wednesday the goal is to "peel back the layers of Saddam's covert weapons procurement network and track down his suppliers."
The team of ICE and Defense Department agents has uncovered a wealth of information about Iraq's attempts to purchase U.S. arms and technology — in violation of U.S. and U.N. sanctions — through interviews with former Iraqi military officers, ministers and Baath Party (search) officials. Iraqi documents and even the serial numbers on weapons and parts also provided important leads, officials said.
The investigation has led agents to the locations of 75 missiles in various parts of Iraq, officials said.
In the Yakous case, the government charges that the father and son engineered a plan to provide Iraq with components to build sophisticated, high-speed patrol boats before the U.S.-led war that ousted Saddam, the Iraqi president. Although three of the boats were deployed to the Basra region in southern Iraq, officials could not say Wednesday if they were used in combat.
Sabri Yakou, an Iraqi native who is now a legal U.S. resident, appeared before a federal magistrate Wednesday on charges of violating U.S. arms control laws. He was arrested Tuesday at Washington's Reagan National Airport after arriving on a flight from Bangkok, Thailand.
U.S. Magistrate Deborah Robinson released Yakou to the custody of a family member living in the Washington area and ordered him to wear an electronic monitoring device.
His son, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was arrested Saturday in Baghdad on similar charges and will be brought to the United States as soon as possible, officials said. An ICE affidavit describes Regard Yakou as his father's "chief deputy" in the deal.
Each man faces up to 10 years in prison and fines up to $1 million if convicted.
U.S. Attorney Roscoe C. Howard Jr. in Washington said the charges are "a testament of our commitment to fight terrorism on many levels."
The Yakous carried business cards listing an address in Danville, Calif., and another in Singapore. They have homes in San Diego and the son also has a residence in Walnut Creek, Calif., while the father also has a home in Baghdad, according to court documents.
Sabri Yakou heads a company called P.T. Gulf International (search), which U.S. officials say was to be paid $11 million for acting as the middleman in construction of the patrol boats by an Iraqi-run company.
A document written by Sabri Yakou to Iraqi military officials, and dated Nov. 14, 2000, demonstrated his desire to help Iraq circumvent international arms and technology embargoes, according to the U.S. government.
"My main goal was (and there should be no doubt about this) to serve this nation which is dear and loved by me and to transfer new industry (new technology) and train the Iraqi workforce in this new technology," said the document.
The ICE affidavit says the deal involved providing the Iraqi navy with six patrol boats — armed with machine guns and heavier deck guns — that could be used in coastal waters and in the open ocean. A contract between Sabri Yakou's company and the Iraqi company was signed April 29, 2002.
Raw materials for the boats were obtained from a Malaysian company, with electronics purchased in Singapore and the engines obtained from Germany, the affidavit said. This made the origin of the boats more difficult to trace.
Sabri Yakou told officials that only three of the boats were built in Iraq before the Saddam's government fell and that he was still owed about $3 million for the unfinished ones, which are still in Baghdad.
The affidavit says that the Yakous, in a taped interview with ICE agents, attributed the delays in completing the boats to the embargoes that required materials to be shipped through Jordan.